Heavy Music, Meditative Menace: Darkentries’ The Make Believe

Darkentries
The Make Believe
Retro Futurist

Written by:

Last year Philip Anselmo expanded my horizons, as he’s been doing for years. When we talked about his solo album with his backing band The Illegals, Walk Through Exits Only, he told me that he considered the music of Nick Cave, The Smiths, and Swans to be as heavy as anything by Slayer, Suffocation, or, for that matter, Pantera and Down.

When I began thinking about how best to write about Darkentries’ The Make Believe, I couldn’t help but think about the way in which Anselmo’s remark made me reconsider the effectiveness of genre labels in describing music. Indeed, the morose despondency of The Smiths and the brutal anger of Slayer are raw emotions and—and this is the key point—the life’s blood of heavy music.

Darkentries play heavy music, and Anselmo’s point is germane to what they accomplish on The Make Believe, a record of synthesis and cohesion that rebels against any genre definitions that would make it easy to consume. In a world of Spotify and iTunes, of play lists and background music, Darkentries have made a record that demands your attention. And once you’ve given The Make Believe your attention, Darkentries take you on a therapeutic and beautiful journey on which you can’t help but experience extreme emotional states that result in emotional catharsis.

Darkentries’ aesthetic on The Make Believe is synthesis. You know that the guys—Jonathan Warf and Roger Caughman on guitars, Brad Marino on bass, Hampton Dodd on vocals, and Josh Gilley on drums—have listened to and internalized everything from The Cure to Sisters of Mercy, from Sun Kil Moon to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, from High on Fire to Boris. Yes, Darkentries are smart guys with great taste. But when you’re listening to The Make Believe, you don’t focus on what the guys have heard and, obviously, thought deeply about. The Cure et al. occur to you as traces once you lift the needle off “Feedback Funeral” and The Make Believe comes to a close.

But what’s most important is the immediate experience of The Make Believe as emotional journey. Take record opener, “TV Fuzz.” Warf and Caughman begin the song with melodic guitar lines that set a mood that can only be described as meditative menace. Of course, long introductions have been used before, by the likes of Black Sabbath, Joy Division, and The Cure. But what’s new here is the way in which the guitar melodies remain (relatively) calm and always contrast sharply with the screamed or growled vocals. This contrast adds an element of dissonance—of the uncomfortable—to the proceedings. It’s as if Darkentries argue that even in the depths of the spiritual beauty of meditation, anxiety (or the dark) always finds an entry.

“Honey Eater” is all darkness, growls and screams, and heavy guitars that create spatial tension. Fast, chugging, confining riffing conflicts with cavernous melodic lines. “Honey Eater” wants to be an open palace, but it’s really a prison—and Dodd’s screams only heighten the existential pain of an untenable and unbearable situation.

Gilley comes to the fore on “I’m Tired of Being Alive,” which is probably the most exciting track on The Make Believe. His masterful, heavy drum riff introduces the track and sees it through, providing a foundation for Warf and Caughman, who explore the potential of their guitars. Warf and Caughman play a bevy of riffs and make a ton of effects that come from space rock, sludge metal, and noise rock, taking you on a guitar odyssey that bears a resemblance to Boris and Sonic Youth. And this all transpires in 2:56!

Gilley’s intro drumming is simply mountainous and spacious on “1200-S,” the song that turned me onto Darkentries in the first place. His playing creates a cavern in the heart and makes you become one with the song. When he stops, and Warf and Caughman enter the soundscape with grating and scraping guitar noises, you feel that you’re very life depends on Gilley’s drums coming back. And when they do, they’re accompanied by Dodd, whose vocals are a primal scream straight from the heart of darkness. Dodd excels at punctuating with angst the heavy guitar riffing that follows. And this angst is made all the more discomforting when a creepy but melodic guitar line comes in and Gilley executes some truly terrifying freeform drumming. The final, chaotic section brilliantly punctuates “1200-S,” probably the best track on The Make Believe.

Record closer “Feedback Funeral” is just that. It begins as a funereal dirge, with slow, menacing riffs and powerful vocals. But, as you should know by now, Darkentries are too restless, too creative, to stay in one place for an entire song. The band quickly explodes into an all-out assault of noise, suggestive of the true pain and anxiety that ceremonial (and any expected music) can’t capture. Dodd’s contribution is essential here. His lyrical descent into vulgarity gets at the ineffectiveness of language and finely wrought poetry at capturing despair.

The word “despair” connects the end of The Make Believe to the beginning of this review. Darkentries have made an unexpected and necessary record that contributes to the lineage of heavy, extreme music that Slayer, The Smiths, Sun Kil Moon, Nick Cave, The Cure, and others of their ilk have established. They may be the new band on the block, but with The Make Believe, they’ve made a firm foundation that hints at a bright (or should I say, a “dark”?) future.